If Gov. Pat McCrory goes along with the General Assembly’s partial “disassembly” of state environmental rules – and if North Carolina loses significant ground in the battle against pollution, as likely would be the case – he won’t be able to say he wasn’t warned.
Fourteen of the state’s environmental groups have teamed up with a request that McCrory veto House Bill 74 – which they describe as a “68-page compilation of special interest handouts.” The so-called Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate and House in the closing hours of the legislative session that concluded on July 26, with environmental advocates strongly objecting.
The bill would entangle the agencies responsible for environmental oversight in snarls of red tape. Those agencies already are being forced to operate with fewer staff members and in a climate where the state’s political leadership has seemed determined to follow the notion of business-friendliness out the window.
The coalition of groups, in their July 31 letter to the governor, found some grounds for optimism in their quest for a veto.
“As you noted in your press conference on July 26th,” the letter-writers said, “the bill weakens standards that protect citizens, communities and gamelands from the impacts of landfills. Additionally, you pointed out that the bill strips local governments of control over the size and type of billboards that can be erected in a community.” McCrory had his headlights on when he made those observations. He has every reason to follow through and deploy his veto stamp.
Landfills can be troubling sources of pollution, especially to groundwater. The groups fault the bill more generally for a broad weakening of water quality rules. For example, they say, the bill “would exempt polluters from clean-up until after an imminent threat to human health exists and from monitoring that would signal when a threat to human health is imminent.” How could McCrory see these as good changes?
Few rules, more pollution
A conservative legislature taking signals from business interests made no secret of its hostility to environmental rules, and H.B. 74 was a centerpiece of the deregulatory agenda. Even so, there were signs that some lawmakers, Republicans as well as Democrats, understood the risks of going too far. That’s a perspective in keeping with the N.C. Council of Churches’ emphasis on environmental stewardship.
For example, a move to scrap the carefully developed plan for cleaning up Jordan Lake – one of the Triangle region’s two, main drinking water reservoirs – was sidetracked in favor of a three-year delay in carrying out the plan. Still, there’s no good reason for such a delay, as called for by Senate Bill 515, and the coalition added that bill to its veto wish-list. McCrory would elicit a chorus of “attaboys” in places like Cary and Apex, which draw their drinking water from the lake, if he stood firm on the clean-up.
Representatives of these groups signed the letter to the governor:
— American Rivers
— Cape Fear River Watch
— Clean Water for North Carolina
— Environment North Carolina
— Environmental Defense Fund
— Haw River Assembly
— Natural Resources Defense Council
— North Carolina Coastal Federation
— North Carolina Conservation Network
— Pamlico-Tar River Foundation
— Sierra Club North Carolina Chapter
— Southern Environmental Law Center
— WakeUp Wake County
— Waterkeepers Carolina
McCrory so far has not vetoed any bills sent to him by a legislature determined to swing state policies toward the right. It’s fair to speculate that his input resulted in some bills being shaped more to his liking and others being put on hold. Besides H.B. 74, though, he’ll have to reckon with another bill for which he has signaled his doubts — H.B. 392, which would authorize officials to make welfare applicants take drug tests if they had “reasonable suspicion” the applicants were drug users.
Drug use is both harmful and illegal, and of course there should be no knowing arrangement to let people use welfare benefits to feed a drug habit. But one hates to think what kind of “evidence” might be construed as reasonable suspicion that could lead to drug testing. Being without a job? Living in a poor part of town? Having the wrong skin color?
As The News & Observer of Raleigh reported, the state chapter of the ACLU is among the groups that want McCrory to reject H.B. 392 as an invasion of low-income people’s physical privacy. The governor should trust his instincts and refuse to let this bill over the bar.
–Steve Ford, Volunteer Program Associate